Proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary
Artist John Khus, right, and his assistants finish a mural on the heritage of the Chumash tribe on Sunday, Aug. 13, 2023, at the Post Office on Bridge Street in Cambria. KATHE TANNER

A dramatic new mural depicting Chumash tribal history and the proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary is brightening up a corner of San Luis Obispo County.

The vivid artwork by Chumash artist John Khus covers a large outdoor wall on the U.S. Postal Service building at 4100 Bridge St., in Cambria, near Center Street. The mural, titled “Tomol Rides Wishtoyo,” shows images including the Milky Way and a Chumash elder in a traditional canoe known as a tomol watching human spirits pass over the rainbow bridge to join their ancestors.

Khus and his older brother and Bear Clan elder Michael Khus-Zarate were on hand when the mural was formally unveiled on Friday.

Also there were Northern Chumash Tribal Council chair Violet Sage Walker, former Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council chair Margaret “P.J.” Webb and Beautify Cambria Association founder Claudia Harmon Worthen.

The event featured a tribal ceremony, music and blessing, plus welcomes by various governmental representatives and postal officials and refreshments.

The Chumash council and the Beautify Cambria group collaborated on the mural project as a way to recognize SLO County’s First Peoples and emphasize the importance of protecting the area’s oceans and marine habitats.

The Chumash have lived along the Central California coast and Channel Islands for millennia, at one time occupying a territory from Malibu to Cambria to the west edge of the San Joaquin Valley.

Beautify Cambria’s name encompasses its mission — cleaning up the small coastal town and enhancing its appearance.

The group has added plants to Main Street medians, replaced trash receptacles with flower-topped wooden ones, spruced up a hillside near a major intersection and advocated for the reduction of light pollution as part of the dark sky movement.

The U.S. Postal Service office approved the mural and prepared the outer wall of the leased building by removing ivy, cleaning, repairing and painting.

Other supporters of the project include San Luis Obispo County officials, the North Coast Advisory Council and U.S. House of Representatives members Salud Carbajal and Jimmy Panetta.

While the mural has been under wraps since it was completed Sunday, some folks got a sneak peek over the weekend as Khus, Sage Walker, commercial artist Scott Kam and some volunteers put the finishing touches the artwork.

Cambria volunteers work in July 2023 to complete a mural on a wall of Re-Create Thrift Shop in Cambria. Courtesy photo


Cambria has other murals, including one finished in December that’s kitty-corner across the street from “Tomol Rides Wishtoyo” on the Bridge Street wall of Bob & Jan’s Bottle Shop.

The mural, which depicts the migration of monarch butterflies, was created by the owners of the Canned Pineapple design firm in San Luis Obispo, Christopher “Buddy” Norton and Shelby Lowe.

It was the first of three local murals commissioned by Visit SLO CAL, the nonprofit destination marketing and management organization for San Luis Obispo County. Others are located in San Luis Obispo and Arroyo Grande.

Volunteers recently created a colorful floral mural on a long wall of Re-Create Thrift Store, 1601 Main St. in Cambria.

A community-created mural shepherded by the Cambria Center for the Arts adorns the side wall of a building at 555 Main St. in Cambria that houses the Once Upon a Tyme clock and doll shop and the Cuttrazzola Vineyards tasting room.

Fish-eating sea anemone live on the rocky reef off Point Estero, where NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries and partners are listening to underwater sound inside the proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary. Robert Schwemmer NOAA


In 2015, the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary was nominated by the Northern Chumash Tribal Council for designation by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

If approved, the sanctuary, which is the nation’s first tribally led nomination, would preserve marine and cultural resources in 7,000 square miles of the sea along 156 miles of the Central California coastline.

Waters to the north and south are protected by the Channel Islands sanctuary and the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, which ends at a midpoint of Cambria’s shore.

NOAA officials expect to release the draft designation documents within the next few months. The effort is getting national attention.

After the draft documents are released, NOAA will open a public comment period to allow community members to voice their opinions about the proposed sanctuary.

This story was originally published August 18, 2023, 5:00 AM in the Cambrian and was written by Kathe Tanner

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